I want to develop my ‘negative traces’ work for the Cambodia project, using different photographic techniques. For the the latest module in the MA, my Work in Progress used digital images converted to black and white negatives. These were quite well received in the grading process. I have previously noted the possibilities of using infrared, and why. In short, it could provide images which challenge traditional perceptions, and engage the audience in different ways in decoding my work.
Amongst other work that I have researched, Judy Glickman Lauder’s mix of traditional black and white, negatives and infrared is inspirational.
Judy Glickman Lauder. Railway to Treblinka.
So, I have just requested a conversion of my Olympus OM-D system to infrared.
This graphic illustrates light spectrums, humorously and accurately.
The visible light spectrum is a fairly narrow band, with infrared at frequencies below visible light (higher wavelengths), and ultra violet at higher frequencies (lower wavelengths). Near infrared was discovered by William Herschel, in 1800.
Digital camera sensors can access some infrared frequencies, but have filters to deliver just the ‘real’ visible colours. It is possible to get lens filters to counterbalance this, but then exposure times are massively increased. I did some experiments with this approach last year.
A full conversion allows the sensor to access a much broader frequency range. There are several ways to do this. ‘Full Spectrum’ effectively allows the camera to access both the visible and infrared frequencies, creating false colour images. It is possible to convert to sensor to specific frequencies – 590nm, 680nm, 720nm, 850nm being the most common. Infrared Camera Conversions illustrates the pros and cons. I have opted for 720nm conversion, which can deliver ‘false colour’ images, but which can easily be post-processed to black and white, giving images quite similar to black and white film. This seems the most appropriate digital solution to meet the project needs.
Robert Williams Wood. Published 1910. IR Landscape
Clive Haynes notes that:
‘The first photographs made by infrared radiation were made in the late 19th century with the first documented published infrared photograph in 1910 by Robert Williams Wood (1868-1955). Wood was an American physicist and professor of optical physics. He had been fascinated by what he called “invisible rays” and was credited with the discovery of electromagnetic radiation beyond the visible spectrum. He developed photographic emulsions to capture this radiation and produced the first photographs of both infrared and ultraviolet radiation. The photographs exhibit the characteristic whitening of healthy foliage which became known as the “Wood Effect” and it remains one of the distinctive features of many infrared pictures.’
One of the most striking effects in infrared photography is what happens to foliage. The Chlorophyll in living cells does not absorb or reflect infrared light, so light bounces inside the cells, and can pass straight through. Essentially, this renders living greens as photographically transparent – hence rendering them white in black and white images.
Walter Clark. Published 1934. IR Face.
Walter Clark (1899–1991) published an article in 1934 in the Journal of the Biological Photographic Association, on ‘Infrared Photography’. This included an infrared photograph of a woman’s face, which is the first published picture of a person using that technique.
I am hoping to get the camera conversion back before my next Cambodia trip, mid February. Fingers crossed.
As I noted in these posts, as a ‘data geek’ I have been tracking my ‘likes’ profile on Facebook and Instagram since 2015 – all images, genres, groups.
So, at year end, it is fairly easy to see my ‘best nine’. In each case, I noted only images taken in 2018, which meant that an archive film image which was quite heavily ‘liked’ was taken out of the set. Interestingly, it was a different image on facebook to that of Instagram.
I did curate this set, slightly, by removing a couple of images which also scored well, but were essentially similar to others in the series, and adding the next two in line. I followed the same process with Instagram.
The Instagram set is skewed, as I promoted some of the Cambodia Traces images.
Nevertheless, it does rather strike that the Facebook collection is more reflective of portraits and family images than Instagram.
It also underlines the power of promotion on Instagram.
Had quite an interesting exchange on Facebook in the last couple of days, which started off with me posting a picture of one of my favourite Scotch Whiskies. It led to the idea of combining a print swap with a whisky tasting.
Paul Clements: It’s funny how ‘Whisky’ inspires conversations around Photography!! Thinking about it, l think Barthes would have appreciated a wee dram … Sontag, not so …
Mick Yates:I imagine Derrida would want to split the Whisky into its constituent chemicals before deciding what it tastes like.
Ashley Rose: Water, barley, yeast. Job done!
Mick Yates: You forgot the apparatus of Scotch making … thanks, Vilém.
Ashley Rose: Aye, but that is nae a constant while the ingredients are immutable by law. So in fairness, perhaps I should also have included time as that too is a key ingredient as it were. No disrespect to Flusser though.
Mick Yates: Time … Derrida said that punctum is a duration … very appropriate to Scotch … part of the apparatus?
Ashley Rose: Yes,
Ashley Rose: How far can we go? It is the ‘Decisive Moment’ when the whisky reaches the tongue that we become aware of the thing itself.
Mick Yates: Rubbish. The Decisive Moment is when you first see the bottle.
Ashley Rose: Meer indexicality. There is no sense of the real thing itself and it is probably seeing the price rather than the bottle itself.
Ashley Rose: Seeing a bottle for the first time is a manifestation of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and akin to Schrödinger’s cat. The whisky is good and bad (is that possible?) at the same time. And as soon as you open the bottle, it is no longer what it was in the bottle. It has changed by the act of closer examination and it will never again be what what it was the instant the stopper was first inserted. Now there’s some thoughts to get drunk over.
Mick Yates: When we so love a whisky that it’s out of this world, wouldn’t that great, dour Scot David Hume tell us, that’s no miracle, as it happened in the real world of experience?
Ashley Rose: >Recapping, this thread has worked in Derrida, Barthes, Sontag, Cartier-Bresson, Flusser, Hume, Hurn, Heisenberg, Schrodinger and Paul Clements. You have yet to work in Wittgenstein and I Bill Jay. This could go on awhile.
Mick Yates: Ash, that’s easy. Bill Jay would say cut that academic stuff and just enjoy the scotch, using your experience to judge how good it is. And Wittgenstein would say it’s only called Scotch because we drink it.
Mick Yates: Just realised we missed Martha Rosler … drinking Scotch is a political act.
Ashley Rose: Ah but that is not a war I am bringing into my living room. It is rather a love fest. There room on my shelf and in my heart for Islay, Highland, Speyside, Orkney, and even a lowly Lowland whisky. So is it political or is it a great arbitor; something that can even bring a Tory, Labour, LibDem or MEP to agreement? On the other hand maybe you are correct and that we claim it as Scotch Whisky in the face of all the other single malt whiskies in the world is indeed political.
Paul Clements: … and not forgetting a little ‘Mutual Aid’ from Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin … always good to work collectively for the common good!
Ashley Rose: You got me Paul Clements with Kropotkin. Gonna have to look him up though can guess a bit from your follow up comment. Sounds like my credo ‘cooperate to graduate’ may be in his lexicon.
Mick Yates: Ashley … you an anarcho-communist, then? Well, well … explains a lot …
Barthes, Roland. 1980. Camera Lucida. New York: Hill & Wang.
Cartier-Bresson, Henri.1952. The Decisive Moment. 2014 Ed. Göttingen: Steidl.
Derrida, Jacques, 2010. A Conversation on Photography (edited by G. Richter). Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Flusser, Vilém. 1983 (Trans. 2000). Towards a Philosophy of Photography. London: Reaktion Books.
Hume, David. 1777 (Ed. Selby-Bigge, L.A., 1888. 2010 edition). Treatise of Human Nature. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Jay, Bill & Hurn, David. 1996 (2008 Ed.). On Being a Photographer. Anacortes: Lens Work Publishing.
Rosler, Martha. 2004. Decoys and Disruptions. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
Sontag, Susan. 1970. On Photography. New York: Anchor Books.
One of my action steps for 2019 is to explore other ways of rendering my traces / negatives, and that includes infra red. I am particularly taken with how Judy Glickman Lauder mixes black & white and infra red, depending on the subject at hand, in her work on Denmark and the holocaust.
I very rarely have posted a ‘technical’ item, but I felt this needed recording. To get started, I got a Hoya IR filter (720mm wavelength) to experiment with on my digital cameras, before plunging into IR film or even converting a camera. Chlorophyll reflects green light in the visible spectrum, hence the way we see fields, trees and landscapes. Yet chlorophyll also is transparent to infra red light, so rendering a completely different colour palette, and, in black and white, rendering pure white.
I set up one of my Nikons, to take a test shot.
As the IR filter is virtually opaque to the human eye, manual focusing before using it was essential. Then, with a little trial and error, the best settings using the filter were ISO 6400, F/16, and +5 stops exposure compensation, which led to shutter speeds in the several second range. The result, out of the camera with no adjustment:
RAW Infra Red with IR Filter
Adjusting colour balance, contrast and so forth led to this, somewhat in the style of Richard Mosse:
Colour & Contrast Balanced
Whilst I am not yet convinced of the aesthetic here, It is noticeable how the infra red is pushing viewer’s attention to the sky and the middle distance – the upright conifers and the hillside.
I now decided to turn to black and white. First, a straight forward conversion of the original ‘natural colour’ image:
Black & White
Then, a conversion of the colour infra red to black and white,
Infra Red Conversion
This is something quite disconcerting about this latter image, again those large conifers, but with a ghostly presence. By contrast, the ‘straight’ black and white is rather flat.
To be continued.
Glickman Lauder, Judy. 2018. Beyond the Shadows: The Holocaust and the Danish Exception. New York: Aperture.
About the same time, I also wanted my candid and environmental portrait work to develop, so it seemed natural to combine the two threads – in street portraits. Sarah Lee has been a particular inspiration in the environmental portrait arena, and a source of good advice.
Yesterday, I met up with some friends in London, at the Portobello Market, for social time and a little street shooting.
As we talked, it became clear that, over time, I have become a little disillusioned with the rather ‘one off’ nature of street photographs. Of course, great practitioners such as Dougie Wallace use street to tell stories.
But I think too much of a ‘street meet’ is focused on getting that ‘one shot’, Cartier-Bresson style. And, the Leica religion (‘comparing sensors and lens resolution) not only powers that ethos but also frankly irritates the heck out of me.
So, I decided to shoot with a fairly long focal length lens, and not the normal 28mm or 35mm. I wanted to go for portraits.
And it seemed to work.
The light was fantastic in the morning.
I give street photography workshops these days, and people often ask ‘how to take the sneaky shots’. I do not do that, believing that if you are open and honest about what you are doing, people will either not care or, in fact, will actually engage.
What was of most interest yesterday, however was that we wandered through the social housing estate of Ladbroke Grove. I found this in many ways even more of a fascinating photography challenge than the street portraits. I had nothing planned, and just happened to be there.
Perhaps because I have become increasingly focused on story-telling in this first year of the MA, opportunities presented themselves. So, rather than
People’s loves were on display, just like in any other community. But this one clearly had some deeper story. Why is it partly closed off? Is the council refurbishing, or are people loosing their homes?
And, there was an ambulance, just arriving – although the driver seemed a little disoriented as to exactly he was looking for.
The interplay of light between the ambulance and the last caught my attention. The details of the scene could only be captured in colour.
And, the place was totally deserted. We did not see a single soul.
Yet, like all photographers hanging out with good friends, we still strive for the ‘happy snaps’. This, of Robert Huggins, by the graffiti at the estate.
Where does this all lead?
I think it underpins my determination to think of ‘street’ as another variant of my story-telling, documentary practice. I do not view it as a rather Cartier-Bresson -esque obsession with creating a ‘decisive image’.
In my Work in Progress for this (Sustainable Prospects) Module, I am using Digital Negatives. Whilst the series is generally well received, and it is designed to create debate, I want to continue to develop the idea. A fellow student commented that the images are ‘too beautiful for the Genocide subject’. Another, ‘the aesthetic is inappropriate, it needs to be real’.
Gary commented that the imagery is rather too ‘pristine’.
My Oral Presentation takes note of Antony Cairns, who also creates negatives and then uses various manipulations on them, digital and physical. His work is intriguing, and obviously has bearing on my work.
But I do find the architectural images rather sterile, and lacking in humanity.
Antony Cairns, Osaka
I have had a long time fascination with the work of Daido Moriyama.
His Are Bure Boke style of shooting lends itself well to the spontaneity of the street.
Daido Moriyama, Tokyo, from Record
Occasionally I have attempted to emulate that style, though there is something about the ‘roughness’ of the resulting images which doesn’t always sit well with my usual work.
Perhaps it is more a mental block on my part than anything else, given I can be quite anal about precision in my photography.
James Nakagawa’s work is new to me.
He uses a blend of techniques, though perhaps a unifying aesthetic is the rich variation in the greys in his work. He also moves comfortably from landscape, to abstract and to portrait, using his aesthetic to bring the images together.
James Nakagawa, Eclipse 3, 2018.
Nakagawa’s work begs questions of etc audience, and encourages active participation in etc decoding process. In my OP, I note that I will be researching and experimenting with my own ‘negative’ images, including suing film. I think Nakagawa’s work will be a useful baseline to consider.
It is christmas market time in Bath, and there is the usual range of photographic opportunities.
I thought I would experiment. So I shot hand held, one second exposures, to capture the bustle and the rain.
Comments on this work on social media range from ‘superb’ to ‘what a waste of a good camera’. Still, I think the images do capture the spirit of the market, in a thought provoking way.
A simple Black and White conversion brings Moriyama’s photography to mind.
And then I took the next step – converting the image to a Digital Negative.
Some audience decoding is required, although it is not immediately obvious that the image is a negative.
In my WIP, Jesse commented that one image, of a hand, wasn’t immediately obvious as a negative.
I think this could be a very fruitful line of visual research.
Additionally, I have been looking at Piezography, which claims to be the highest standard in black and white printing, using tens of thousands of greys, delivered via a broad range of different grey and black inks. Also very much worth exploring.
I have long treated my website more as a repository of my work than as a focused ‘shop window’.
Whilst I am happy with, and have got good feedback on the aesthetic, branding and the navigation, it was frankly hard to find the most important things, with too many things in front of the viewer at the same time.
I have the work seperated into ‘projects’ and ‘personal’. I think that is still appropriate. I also using a rolling carousel gallery at the top of the project and personal pages – I like this, as it gets attention, and gives a broader view of my work – but not sure if this would be considered ‘artistic’ or ‘professional’ by others.
However, partly because it is overdue, and partly as part of this MA Module’s assignments, I have started to significantly streamline the site.
I still have an opening splash page, with my portfolio featured, although I have conducted a major edit / overhaul of that portfolio, with more to do.
In Phnom Penh last week, I met Youk Chhang for the first time. The visit including a lot of such networking activities, in order to start the process of getting my projects executed next year in Cambodia.
Youk is the Director of the Documentary Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam), which was founded by Yale University in 1994/5. He has led the center ever since, and is founder of the Sleuk Rith Institute. A tireless advocate of the truth, always using data, Youk was both welcoming and knowledgeable. I was impressed by how objective he was on the motivations and current perceptions of all the actors in this decades old drama.
DC-Cam has been independent of Yale since 1997, and is a Cambodian NGO. The Center has the world’s largest collection of archival material of all kinds on the Khmer Rouge Genocide.
In talking with Youk, we explored many areas of common interest, including my plans for an Installation and book in Phnom Penh, and his plans for the Sleuk Rith Insitute, a new Global center of learning on Genocide (and Genocide prevention).
In fact, subsequently we have been able to provide each other with several networked connections – ironically, mine in Cambodia and Youk’s in the USA.
For now, I want to note two specifics.
First, Youk showed me the one of the Rolleiflex cameras used to take the Tuol Sleng ‘mug shots’ in 1975-1979.
As noted in Michelle Caswell’s book, Archiving the Unspeakable, once a photograph was taken, the inexorable bureaucratic process of torture, confession and execution took place. Nhem En, the leader of the photography group, was trained in China, and is on record as being pleased with the technical quality of the images.
I picked up the camera, and pondered. How extraordinary to hold it, an instrument of death – not just philosophically but practically. It was a central part of the apparatus of killing.
As some of you know, in my MA I am working on Cambodian ‘Unfinished Stories”. The impact of the Genocide of 1975-1979 is still, in many ways, hidden. It is visible only in traces, both physical and psychological.
My project is not about the Genocide per-se, but it does need to contextualise that terrible event as it sits in the background of the personal stories that I am exploring and documenting. It is a part of my personal narrative about Cambodia.
In earlier work, I created images some of which, frankly, fell foul of being ‘dark tourist’ photographs – rather literal records of the museums and mass graves associated with the Genocide. Some were more successful, I feel.
Since that time, I have been exploring the idea of aftermath, shown by traces.
This work is influenced by that of Sophie Ristelhueber, Lukas Birk and others.
Partly through the exploratory work on Cyanotypes, I became intrigued by the notion of using negatives to portray these traces. I am acutely aware that there are lines of caution between effective and respectful documentary imagery, and over-done, crass, dark tourist photographs, and I began to see negatives as a way to both challenge the viewer and avoid some of these bear traps.
In researching the idea, I was intrigued by the work of artists such as Jennifer West, who uses projected filmstrips in interactive installations. West is, of course, taking the idea of using film way past my simple ‘traces’ exploratory. But her use of the negatives images inherent in the medium both as an artefact and as an apparatus is fascinating. She uses the images in overtly spiritual ways.
And the work of photographers like Daniel Nyblin (1856–1923) using glass plate negatives, has been shown to advantage alongside printed copies of the same images. In fact, I personally find the negatives more interesting, and more engaging, than the printed images.
Neither are directly applicable to my use of negatives, but both show possibilities.
For ‘Landings’, I have decided to show only ‘traces’ images, which frankly is a very narrow slice of my overall Cambodian work. Bluntly, I want to get feedback on the idea, and this seemed way to do just that. Cemre and others have noted that this approach has some merit, though clearly much needs to be does to develop the work. For example, I have experimented with the idea of using semi-transparent ‘traces’ as interleaves in a dummy book.
I think it is worth looking at how I got to this point.
First, a Photograph taken last week at Choeung Ek, known as the Killing Fields. Shallow, mass graves are visible. I am deliberately choosing a rather ‘generic’ landscape view, to see what is possible.
This was taken as part of a rephotography exercise. I first visited Choeung Ek in 1994, so here is an image from that time, in situ today.
Whilst I occasionally use black and white, my ‘photographic heart’ is in colour.
Still, I have experimented with black and white interpretations of the scene as I pursue traces.
I find this interesting, as it does provide more focus on the shallow graves, yet, bluntly, is lacking impact.
On the other extreme, I experimented with digitally creating ‘colour negatives’. Whilst the colour here is not exactly Kodachrome, I think it serves to illustrate what is possible.
More focus on the graves, but I feel it is falling into the ‘too arty’ category. I would greatly value the opinions of anyone reading this post. Overall, it is not really the kind of documentary image that I believe will sit alongside my story telling, colour work.
I might, however, pursue Infra Red next time.
I have also done a very quick scan of some of my old negatives.
I do not yet feel convinced on the colour treatment.
So, I have experimented and created presets in Lightroom to manufacture ‘digital negatives’. Of course, if I pursue this approach further, I should actually take film shots in black and white, and use the negatives directly. Right now, though, I feel this is a good proxy.
I feel that is is beginning to get some power, focused a little attention on the graves, and begging some questions in the viewer’s mind as to what they are seeing.
When I go back to the very first image, above, this is the equivalent.
It seems to me that different details are being highlighted – the chain, for example, and the shapes of the flowers and bone shards.
In an allegorical sense, I do think this approach potentially has the power to highlight the negatives of human atrocity, the negatives of personal tragedy.
And, from an audience perspective, such negatives require interpretation. They are just not our normal way of seeing. Instead, these negatives are a step in the process of seeing, not seeing itself.
I could see these traces working alongside other images, videos and artefacts in a multi-media installation, and they would also be good to usewith light boxes.